Podcast Ep. 70, LONDON'S NEW GEN - BETHANY WILLIAMS, MATTHEW NEEDHAM, & PATRICK MCDOWELL
EPISODE 69 FEATURES BETHANY WILLIAMS, MATTHEW NEEDHAM AND PATRICK MCDOWELL
Fashion schools everywhere are full of eco warriors and bright, brilliant kids who are determined to do fashion differently. London is the leader. Long known for its fashion creativity, this is the capital that produces the most vibrant student shows and earth-shaking emerging designers. The big international and Paris-based design houses look to London fashion schools like Central St Martins and London College of Fashion for their future stars - but many in this new generation are questioning the validity of the exisiting fashion system, and asking if they want to be part of it at all. Now is a time of reinvention - young designers will reimagine fashion and the way it works. The question is, how?
In this Episode, we’ll hear from 3 young London-based ones to watch: Bethany Williams, Matthew Needham and Patrick McDowell. Find out why they care about sustainability and how they apply it to their work, what they’re doing to combat fashion waste and redesign the whole system.
WE BELIEVE THE NEXT GENERATION WANTS TO DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY. Not everyone agrees. Last year, a study by two New York college professors found that millennials care more about a product’s brand name and uniqueness than its sustainability. Robert Conrad and Dr. Kenneth Kambara concluded that “price” and “ease of purchase” rank much higher than sustainability credibility when influencing millennial shoppers. Cue headlines like: “Millennials demand socially responsible clothing, but won't buy it.”
Yikes, right? But elsewhere it’s clear that the younger generation is way more aware of, and keen on sustainability than previous generations.
According to Business of Fashion’s State of Fashion 2019 report: “Younger generations’ passion for social and environmental causes has reached critical mass, causing brands to become more fundamentally purpose driven to attract both consumers and talent.”
Clare says: “I see it myself, in the young people I talk to. Too many of my friends and peers in their 30s and 40s aren’t active when it comes to climate, plastic pollution or ethical fashion, but I never meet students or young people aren’t across the issues. After all, they’re the ones who are going to inherit this mess we’ve made.” What do you think?
Listen to Episode 61 on emerging talent at Milan fashion week here.
Fancy digging deeper on brand activism? Check out Clare’s interview with Rachel Arthur on The Current Innovators Podcast here.
Vogue Italia is celebrating Green Talents 2019 during Milan fashion week. More here.
MEET THE DESIGNERS…
LCF grad Bethany Williams is a directional menswear designer and upcylcer. She is winning accolades for her sophisticated collections and social purpose. In February, she won the QEII Award for British Design on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen.
Bethany started out as an artist. Her mum was a pattern-cutter, and she’s always loved textiles and making. However, she was initially reluctant to embark on a fashion career (she cites the industry’s wastefulness and possible pretentiousness) and says that if she wasn’t a next-big-thing designer, she’d be a social worker.
THE ROYAL TICK OF APPROVAL is well-deserved. Says Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council: “Bethany’s work not only has a strong sustainable ethos, but she is committed to supporting hard to reach members of society, create opportunities for them that add long-term real value through the development of both creative and life skills. We couldn’t think of anyone better to recognise and represent so many young British designers that are building their businesses in this way.”
BREADLINE was a collaboration between Bethany, Vauxhall Food Bank & Tesco’s, designed to call attention to food insecurity in the UK.
The Quaker Mobile Library in London provides books for people who don’t have a fixed address.
“As a designer thinking for the future, it’s a case of problem solving all the issues that face our generation – from the planet to the people – if we don’t do it, who is going to?” - Bethany Williams
Matthew Needham knows that the fashion world watches students and new designers in London, so he’s using that power to shake things up and question the current unsustainable fashion system. He’s currently doing his MA at Central St. Martins and also teaching undergrads. Matthew is a radical upcycler whose work turns trash into thoughtful, strangely beautiful garments, that make a political statement: that we’re wrecking nature, and it’s not on.
He was inspired by his experience interning at a luxury fashion house in Paris where he realised that almost every brand, no matter how high-end, has a waste problem. “It’s driven by pressure,” he says . “Fashion goes around in circles and we’ve created this pattern for ourselves.”
Matthew’s collection, Man and his Man-Made Future, closed the St Martins 2017 BA grad show, and has been featured in LOVE magazine, VOGUE ITALIA and i-D. Read Sarah Mower’s i-D story here.
Matthew contributed to the third Fashion Revolution zine, FASHION ENVIRONMENT CHANGE (so did Clare - buy your copy here).
DISCOMAKE gathers together makers, designers and influencers in mending, sharing, swapping, transforming, repairing and creating. The initiative is The events are part of MAKE SMTHNG, a collab between Greenpeace and Fashion Revolution, and the idea is to “take action for a better world” through “a community of making that challenges our consumerist culture – instead of going shopping, we will spend quality time with friends, family and our community. We create events where we teach each other new skills and fun, creative and beautiful ways to make the most of the resources around us: by sharing, repairing, making and doing it ourselves we transform old things into something new and awesome. Together, we can step out of our wasteful overconsumption and give our beautiful Earth.” Oh, and the Floordrobe activity Matthew mentions is a giant paper doll uses to create looks on the floor, and remind us that “old clothes can look as cool as than new clothes”.
MATERIALS Tyvek is a high-density polyester material produced by Dupont. Anything made from textiles can be turned into clothes by the creative upcycler. Matthew saw the potential in an abandoned old-lady shopping bag on wheels. But he’s also made clothes from ocean plastic and roofing materials, and incorporates found objects into his work. “Even the toiles were scraped from the floors of the studios in school,” he says. “For me, if I can tell you where something’s from, like that’s from Brooklyn, this is something I found in the sea in Norway, that’s luxury.”
Patrick McDowell started his fashion career aged 13, when his mum wouldn’t buy him a new school bag so he made his own from upcycled materials. (Bags for Life, incidentally, was the name we gave to reusable shopping bags in Britain before we called them… reusable shopping bags. I know.) He soon had a business selling what he made, and at 16 turned up on the reality TV show Young Apprentice. These days Patrick is an emerging sustainable designer, who’s dressed Rita Ora and M.I.A. His shirt was on the cover of Elle UK’s sustainability issue last year. Lady Gaga’s got one of his bags, which featured in the Maiyet Collective pop-up at Harvey Nichols during London fashion week.
While he was studying at St Martins, Patrick interned at Burberry, and he too became obsessed with fashion waste. With his own label, he’s rethinking the whole system, from repurposing deadstock and considering the climate impacts of his production to making limited editions and choosing an access over ownership model.
HIGHER STUDIO is a London-based online fashion rental startup. Clare rented her wardrobe from here during London fashion week. She’s writing a story about the experience - watch this space. The second-hand and rental market is rising, as Patrick says. Globally, the online clothing rental market is anticipated to be valued at USD 1.9 billion by the end of 2023.
INSTA-FASHION MADNESS. On the other hand, there’s a trend towards shopping online for pieces you intend only to wear for a few minutes in order to take an Instagram pic, then return. This crazy world.
“WHEN I WAS PLAYING THE FASHION BITCH, I USED TO DRESS LIKE KARL LAGERFELD. THERE WAS A PHRASE AT ST MARTINS WHEN I WORE HUGE HIGH HEELS, LOADS OF MAKEUP, BIG KIMONOS AND HUGE EARRINGS, THEN THERE WAS A PHASE WHERE I LOOKED LIKE SOMEONE FROM DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.I’VE ALWAYS ENJOYED CHANGING, THE PLAYFUL ASPECT OF FASHION.’ - PATRICK MCDOWELL
A NOTE ON OUR MUSIC: IT IS BY OUR FRIEND MONTAIGNE, WHO SANG A SPECIAL ACOUSTIC VERSION OF "BECAUSE I LOVE YOU" JUST FOR US. IT'S FROM HER ALBUM GLORIOUS HEIGHTS.
THANK YOU FOR JOINING THE WARDROBE CRISIS CONVERSATION. WE'LL HAVE A NEW EPISODE FOR YOU EVERY WEEK. CAN YOU HELP US SPREAD THE WORD? WE'D LOVE YOU TO TELL YOUR FRIENDS & LEAVE A REVIEW IN iTUNES.
Until next time,